Gerald Almy: Best strategies for cold water largemouths
A fierce wind blew across the pewter gray waters of Lake Anna and sporadic rain stung our faces as my fishing partner and I cast our lures toward a submerged island. It was the dead of winter and the weather was atrocious. Still, we thought our chances for a big bass were higher than average.
The reason for our optimism: this is the time of year when most huge largemouths are caught.
Crawling black jigs tipped with pork rind across the sunken structure, we watched our lines and waited for the subtle tug of a lethargic winter bass. Suddenly my partner’s rod bent double. After a hard-fought battle I scooped the net under 10 pounds of thrashing largemouth bass.
I had never seen a bass that big in my life up close. It was truly amazing to look at. And that’s the kind of reward that keeps diehard anglers fishing right through the dead of winter. Certainly it won’t happen every day. But the potential for citation sized bass (8 pounds or heavier) is best from right now through early April.
Described below are some tactics that will be worth trying on Anna, Smith Mountain, Kerr, Gaston, Chesdin, Chickahominy, the tidal Potomac and other prime bass waters throughout Virginia, as well as smaller nearby ponds and game department lakes.
Cast a Jig and Pig. This is the tactic that my friend and I used when we fished Lake Anna on that cold winter day. Later in the afternoon on that same outingit produced another 9 pounder, plus a couple of 2-3 pound fish.
A ¼ to ¾ ounce black jig is best, with a rubber skirt or hair dressing and a weed guard. Dress the jig with a pork frog, crayfish, lizard or eel in purple, brown, red, blue or black.
Cast this out to points, brushy cover, submerged humps and drop-offs and reel it slowly back after it touches the bottom. Strikes will be subtle in winter. As soon as you feel a slight nibbling on the line, set up hard with the rod and also reel quickly to help drive the hook into the fish’s mouth.
Drag a Grub. This technique is similar to the one described above, but if fish are skittish a plain jig-head with a plastic twister tail is better than a jig and pig. Work this with more of a lift and drop presentation instead of just crawling it like you do with the jig and pork. Often fish will strike as the grub flutters down after the lift. Be ready and set up quickly. I like leadheads of 1/8 to 3/8 ounce for this fishing. These can work in the same areas mentioned earlier and also closer toward shore as fish start moving in shallower when spring approaches.
Good colors include chartreuse, pumpkinseed, smoke and watermelon. Stock both twister tails and paddle type plastic bodies. Twister tails work better when the weather is warming. Use paddle tails when it’s cold and fish prefer a lure with a more subtle movement.
Vertically Jig a Spoon. This is a strategy that will score not only with largemouths but also other gamefish like crappies, white bass and stripers. You can use vibrators, tail-spinners, blade lures and plain jigs, but the best lure for vertical jigging is a hammered metal spoon such as the Hopkins in ½-3/4 ounce size. Find fish on a depth finder or good structure and then lower the spoon down to the bottom or where you have marked fish on the sonar.
Start with a short lift and drop presentation, raising the spoon 12-24 inches and then letting it flutter back down. Watch for strikes on the drop. The line might shoot sideways or simply stop falling or you might feel a slight tap or jerk. Set up fast.
If strikes don’t come, try longer lifts of the rod, as much as 3-4 feet, letting the lure fall freely back down afterward. Make sure excessive slack doesn’t form in the line, though, or you may miss strikes on the “drop.”
When using these tactics, be sure to always check the water temperature in several locations before deciding exactly where to fish. Some parts of a lake may be 42 degrees while other areas are only 39. That 3 degrees may not sound like much, but it can make a huge difference in your catch rate.
As a rule, it’s best to concentrate on northern shorelines. They receive the most sunlight and tend to warm more quickly from southerly winds.
Target your casts toward boat docks with metal roofs and exposed rocks. They soak in the sun and then convey warmth back into the water, attracting both baitfish and bass.
Be sure to wear plenty of warm clothing and dress in layers for winter bass adventures. That way you can adjust to the temperature if it warms up during the day. Always bring quality rain gear. Rain or snow can make fishing tough if you don’t have good foul weather gear.
And absolutely always wear a floatation vest. If you happen to take a spill, it could save your life.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.